Just mention the name of Tiffany Joh and people smile.
Her fellow LPGA Tour members talk about her solid playing skills and penchant for producing entertaining videos. Her fans describe her approachability and willingness to chat and sign their proffered stuff. The media marvels at her intelligence and highly quotable commentary. And her former college teammates gush about how much fun she brought to their team.
The good news is, all of this is true.
Joh borders on comic genius when it comes to writing songs, singing, rapping, playing musical instruments and producing her own videos, which have a regular following on YouTube. Her creativity is off the charts for a professional athlete and her likeability meter makes her a player in demand among fans and media alike.
But while Joh moved the needle this year during her rookie season for reasons off the course, when pressed for an answer, the San Diego native admits she has one key focus on the LPGA Tour.
“The main reason we’re all out here is to be No. 1 in the world at some point,” said Joh, who is celebrating her 25th birthday on Dec. 8. “Sure, I want to be a contender, but maybe the other things I do [off course] is my way of taking off a little bit of pressure and just enjoying what I do. I don’t really mind if nobody takes me seriously.”
True, she might be the 2011 LPGA rookie class clown, but if her LPGA colleagues are not taking the Californian seriously, they might want to take another glance in their rearview mirror. Joh has a way of laughing and rapping her way to the top of leaderboards and making it look easy – even fun -- along the way.
Consider that she was a two-time winner of the prestigious U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship and a member of the winning 2008 U.S. Curtis Cup team. She also tied for 21st as an amateur in the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship and tied for third at the 2006 Australian Ladies Masters as an amateur where she fired a career-low round of 63.
In college, she became the first four-time All-American at UCLA, where she was the 2008 Pac-10 Golfer of the Year and individual runner-up at the 2008 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship (won by Azahara Munoz). She also recorded 23 top-10 finishes, including two tournament wins in college and graduated with a degree in communications with a 3.45 grade point average.
On her way to the LPGA, she won twice on the LPGA Futures Tour – including one victory this year – and earned 2011 LPGA membership by finishing No. 8 on the 2010 Futures Tour’s money list. Playing in only seven 2011 Futures Tour tournaments while also playing her way into better status on the LPGA Tour, Joh posted four top-10 Futures Tour finishes (including a tie for second and a third-place finish) and finished sixth on the Futures’ 2011 money list.
But while she was spending the LPGA’s idle weeks on the Futures Tour this season, Joh was also working her way up the LPGA’s money list and contending more often. That was never more evident than during the Navistar LPGA Classic in September, where she finished second to Lexi Thompson. While the spotlight was firmly planted on Thompson, Joh carded a final-round 4-under 68 to charge into second place.
“I think I’m surprised at how fast it happened,” said Joh, who finished at No. 41 on the LPGA’s money list with 2011 earnings of $237,365 and at No. 87 on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. “I thought it would take me a good two or three years before I really was in contention. Even in junior golf, I never was really a frontrunner. I just worked my way up.”
As for her college experience, Joh claims that she was not the best freshman on the team when she arrived at UCLA. Just as it had been in junior golf, she worked her way up and quickly became an integral part of the Bruins’ squad.
“It took me three or four years before I got into the swing of things at UCLA, so I think it was a pleasant surprise in my first year on the LPGA to come out and contend at a tournament,” added Joh. “I think a lot of why my year was as good as it was came from playing four years of college golf and two full seasons on the LPGA Futures Tour. Those years will really prepare you.”
Joh qualified for this year’s LPGA season-ending CME Group Titleholders and was one of 59 LPGA players who started the week in the limited-field event. While she was pleased with her many milestones this season, Joh was also pragmatic. She admitted disappointment at not finishing better than 54th in her last four tournaments.
And she admitted some frustration at contending and faltering at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, where she was tied for the lead at 12-under par after three rounds alongside Michelle Wie and Ai Miyazato. Unfortunately, when the bad weather blew in for Sunday’s final round, Joh went backwards with a 4-over 76 and dropped into a tie for 12th.
“I would call my rookie year a successful learning experience,” said Joh. “I’m not super-happy with the way I finished the season, but I definitely learned a lot. I know I have a lot to work on.”
But hopefully, Joh put the clubs away for a bit and went home to Southern California to catch up on the things that stoke her inner fire. She likely spent some time in the hillsides on her mountain bike with her brother. She also probably dragged her surfboard into the Pacific and had some quiet time away from everybody – just hanging out with the dolphins.
And she probably also scoped out some live music in town, frequented the neighborhood coffee shop, scarfed down a few burritos, and enjoyed some frozen yogurt in her pajama pants and goofy hats. Maybe she even cut a few new tracks of her own on “GarageBand” in the solitude of her room.
But for Tiffany Joh the golfer, 2012 is just around the corner. And while Joh is not one to thump her chest and cite her goals for the coming year, it’s safe to say that the Californian now knows she can go toe-to-toe with the LPGA’s best players. True to form, she has come from behind and contended, so now she knows what she has to do to win.
“I’m not going to be like, ‘Yani-girl, I’m coming for you!’” laughed Joh, of chasing the LPGA’s top-ranked Yani Tseng. “For me, consistency next year would be great. I just want to have a more consistent year so it’s not as much of an emotional roller coaster.”
And in true hang-on-to-your-hat style, everybody knows that someday soon, Joh will have her winning week on the LPGA Tour. Sure, she might compose a song while walking down the final fairway and she might even whip a ukulele out of her staff bag and serenade the gallery to an original spoof on her big day.
But however Joh decides to commemorate her winning milestone when that day arrives will certainly leave smiles on the faces of many, while also assuring them that this class clown came to play and is laughing all the way to the bank.
- By Lisa D. Mickey
Topics: Joh, Tiffany